When Weeds premiered in 2005, it was a breath of fresh air. One of Showtime’s biggest hits, it ushered in a wave of cable dominance for the network, including the similarly-themed Dexter, Californication, United States of Tara, and Nurse Jackie. “Suburban MILF/widow becomes pot dealer” was a simple enough premise: grounded in reality with enough drama and risk built right in. The dialogue was some of the sharpest on television, and the satire was always sharp. Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin was mesmerizing as she struggled to balance the various roles in her new life. As the first season closed, with a brilliant homage to the end of The Godfather, it appeared that the show could only get better.
And it did, for a while. But after six seasons and over 70 episodes, Weeds is no longer the sweet little dramedy it was in the beginning. The main culprit is the dramatic need to keep raising the stakes – a problem experienced by shows like 24. As Nancy got deeper and deeper into the drug game, the gangsters got bigger and the risks got higher. The suburban satire was literally burned to the ground at the end of the third season, putting the Botwins on the road (from Ren Mar to Tijuana to Seattle to Dearborn). For a while, the show meandered, searching for its lost identity.
Change is inevitable over the course of a long-running show, but the change in Nancy’s character – from likeable and flawed to reckless and selfish – has anchored the show around an unsympathetic protagonist. Case in point: marrying DEA Agent Peter was short-sighted, but marrying kingpin Esteban was insane. It was if the character was intentionally making bad decisions, confounding logic and frustrating the audience at the same time.
By the end of the sixth season, it looked like Nancy’s bad decisions had finally caught up with her. With Esteban and Guillermo on her tail, she engineered “Plan C,” simultaneously securing a new life for her family, implicating Esteban, and taking the blame for a murder Shane committed. The seventh season opens three years later, with Nancy at an unexpected parole hearing that results in her release to a halfway house in NYC. The family had established new lives in Copenhagen, but return to the states when they find out Nancy is free. Conveniently, Esteban died
on the way to his home planet in the prison yard.
Faced with living in a halfway house, sharing a room with a sociopath, and working a minimum wage job, Nancy quickly and predictably returns to her old ways. Astonishingly, she violates her parole 40 minutes into the new season by smoking a joint with her prison lover’s brother (Pablo Schreiber, of The Wire and Lights Out), with whom she plans to trade a cache of stolen weapons (!) for weed. As Silas looks to relaunch his modeling career stateside, Shane and Andy watch the hilariously-titled “Your Inmate: What to Expect” as they wait for Nancy to return to the halfway house.
What the Botwin clan – and the audience – should expect is unending recidivism. Like them, I/we keep coming back for more. But faced with an unrepentant character, for whom three years in the slammer isn’t “rock bottom,” for how much longer is up for debate.
Weeds airs Mondays at 10PM on Showtime.
Great writeup, CK. I really think it comes down to the writer of the show, Jenji Kohan. As much as the story has gotten so out of control, he still writes well and we like it.
Also interesting to note: Ant has only watched the last 2 seasons. He has no idea what has happened! The silliness is all he knows and he still loves it.
I miss Conrad tho…
Thanks. Agreed – the writing is still top-notch (and it turns out Jenji Kohan is a she).
That’s crazy! You owe it to him to re-watch the first couple at least. Conrad and Celia are definitely missed.